Carol Smith, science teacher at Colchester Middle School
When did you realize you wanted to teach?
I have always assumed I would teach. Both of my parents were middle school teachers and all of our family friends were as well. I was surrounded by ‘school people’ all the time. I had my own chalkboard as a kid and loved to use the colored chalk to “teach.” My mom gave me unused gradebooks in which I would record the names and grades of my pretend students. My parents often apologized for not being able to expose me to any other career opportunities, but it allowed me to know intimately what I was getting into.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you do instead?
I often wonder this myself. Actually, my dream job is to bag groceries. I’m a visual spatial person and love the challenge of fitting it all in the bag perfectly. I’m a people person, yet do enjoy being able to make my own decisions. I’m interested in medicine and might like nursing. I haven’t ruled out being a tour guide either.
What’s your favorite aspect of teaching?
I love to design curriculum. Creating labs and activities allows me to be creative. I really enjoy seeing the ‘lightbulb’ come on for students when they finally make a connection or understand something deeply.
If you could change something about the education system, what would it be?
I would slow down the pace. There is so much pressure on students to keep up, complete a task, and move on. Some of the best moments occur when students and teachers can simply talk with each other, have those human moments, and continue to work through a concept or practice a skill.
What is your favorite book?
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George—I distinctly recall being in a small reading group in sixth grade and loving this book. I recall being on a family hike with a friend who was also in the group. We spent the entire hike looking at every huge tree and imagined living in its trunk. Talk about an authentic book discussion. We never whined about how many miles were left!
The Shack by William P. Young—As an adult it has provided a very comforting image of Heaven.
What would your students be surprised to learn about you? (i.e. hidden talents, hobbies, etc…)
Perhaps they do not know that in elementary and middle school, Principal Cote and I were teammates and duet partners on a competitive Synchronized Swim team. We competed throughout NY, NJ and CT. We did not even recognize each other when we started working together a few years ago. The pictures of us in our matching bedazzled bathing suits and our hair in slick buns will remain in storage! Some things should just be left to the imagination. Perhaps I can bring out some of our winning ribbons.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure meal or dessert?
Anything chocolate! I love German chocolate cake, but no one in my family likes coconut so I never get it for my birthday. My birthday is in the summer... hint, hint.
Describe a moment when you really connected with a student.
I enjoy connecting with students in mutual activities outside of school. It’s fun for me to observe the moment when students see me as an individual other than a teacher. It’s fun when our paths cross outside of school in our other lives. For example, for many years our family has participated in high school and VARA alpine ski racing and I have been able to cheer for and support students in moments of celebration and disappointment. It’s good for students to realize that we are human too, and have varied interests beyond the school walls.
Twenty-two years ago a seventh-grader gave me a decorated envelope with a one dollar bill as a gift to start a savings for my newborn. I still have that unopened envelope. I intended to give it to my son, but am now saving it to give back to her first child.
What is a difficult aspect of teaching?
It’s not so much difficulty, but rather a disappointment that as middle school teachers, we often don’t get to know how our students turn out. The middle school years can be so awkward, bumpy, and for some, academically frustrating. The brain is a funny thing and it eventually clicks and kids figure it all out. We see potential in the students many times before they realize their aptitudes and find success.
What song do you know all of the lyrics to?
I do not have a knack for recalling words to songs. It really frustrates me. I frequently sing the first lines or key portions of a chorus during class. I joke that I should release a musical montage of science-themed one-liners for science teachers to play on cue: Pressure (Billy Joel), She Blinded Me With Science (Thomas Dolby), Staying Alive (Bee Gees), “It’s electrifying!” (John Travolta in Grease, You’re The One That I Want), etc.
What current trends among your students are baffling to you and why?
I just don’t understand why middle schoolers do not wear coats to school. Kids, we live in Vermont! It gets cold and we ARE going outside for recess!
What makes you proud to work in the Colchester School District?
I feel fortunate to work in a district in which I’m surrounded by such a hard working, dedicated staff. As a result, Colchester is innovative and at the forefront of best educational practices. This is certainly a win for our students as it affords them the best practices and opportunities.